TULSA, Okla. — There are over 7,000 children in the foster care system here in Oklahoma and 48 percent of those children are ages 6 to 17.
2 News Oklahoma went in-depth to take a hard look at Oklahoma’s foster system and met one woman who is making a big impact.
"I have my 29th right now," said Keil Miller. She’s 26.
She first opened her heart to foster care while she was still in college.
“I was 21. It was March of my senior year of college. Going into finals, I had a friend of my sisters who had lost custody of their kiddos and they asked if I would do a kinship placement," said Miller.
Fast forward to 2021, and Miller now has a house bursting with kids.
“We have 17, 16, 7, 7, 3 and 2 at the moment. My 16, my 17 and my 7-year-old are all medically typical and my 2- and 3-year-old are medically complex," she explained.
Oklahoma Human Services Child Welfare Director Dr. Deb Shropshire told 2 News teens can often be tough to find foster homes for, and that's why mothers like Miller are so special.
“Certainly, in that teenage category, finding families that feel comfortable extending their hand and saying hey, I want to serve in the teenage space can be challenging," said Dr. Shropshire.
She said right now, it's mostly pre-teens and teens who are in shelters, which is why they are working hard to recruit more foster families to serve them
For Keli, it's simple, “on a very basic level, they can wipe their own rear and tell me what they want," she said.
But it's so much more than that.
“Drivers Ed and what do I want to be when I grow up and navigating those big decisions, and those big first jobs and prom and the complicated emotions that come with being a teenager are also really fun," said Miller.
But raising 6 kids, some that have special needs, is tough.
"Foster care is hard. I am not going to sugar coat it for you. There is DHS, there is visits, there is counseling appointments, doctor appointments. It’s hard, but parenting is hard," said Miller.
She said the number one thing she hears from others is that it's too hard, and they would get too attached when they must give the child back.
"We choose hard here, and I encourage other people to choose hard too because it does hurt when they leave. You need to foster to put families back together. That’s the intention here," she said.
Some of those foster children turn into adopted children, even as they are dying.
Miller met her 2-year-old son, Emery after his birth mother left him at the hospital. HIs birth mother left him after learning he was terminally ill and had multiple health issues. Miller and her husband stepped in to take him home and love him unconditionally to the very end.
“Emery was born with multiple brain conditions," said Miller. He is also blind, has multiple seizures a day, can't sit or talk and must be fed with a feeding tube.
But when Miller looks at Emery, she doesn't see a child who is sick and dying. She only sees a little, boy who fills her heart with love.
2 News found out that out of Oklahoma's more than 7,000 foster care children, roughly 1,000 of those kids are in a trial re-unification with their family, or in a trial adoption with a possible permanent family.
The Therapeutic Foster Care program is in the greatest current need in Oklahoma: The program assists school-aged children who have unique life experiences that require enhanced understanding of each child’s individual needs.
Children in this level of foster care require more specialized therapeutic services to improve their well-being and families who are willing to come alongside children who come from hard places or circumstances.
The right foster family can provide the additional support and healing these children need to thrive. There are not currently enough TFC homes available in Oklahoma for the children who need it most.
If you would like more information about becoming a foster care parent, you can visit okdhs.org.
WATCH the full story TUESDAY on 2 News Oklahoma at 6.
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